Nroff, short for “New Runoff,” is a Unix-based text-formatting program used primarily for creating simple documents and displaying them on a terminal screen. It reads commands embedded within the text and formats the output accordingly, handling basic text formatting elements such as line breaks, font styles, and indentation. Nroff works alongside Troff (Typesetter Runoff), which is designed for producing output for typesetters and printers.

Key Takeaways

  1. Nroff stands for “Newspaper Typesetter Runoff” and is a Unix-based text formatting and typesetting tool used for creating simple documents and displaying them on terminal screens and printers.
  2. It is particularly useful for writing man pages, technical documentation, and basic text formatting, providing a simple yet powerful set of commands to control text layout and appearance.
  3. Nroff cannot create complex documents with images, tables, and other advanced formatting features, hence it is not suitable for advanced desktop publishing tasks, but rather for more straightforward document processing.


Nroff, short for “new roff,” is an essential Unix-based text formatting and typesetting command widely used in the creation of manuals, technical documentation, and simple text documents.

As an essential component of Unix systems, nroff plays a crucial role in transforming plain text files into well-formatted, visually appealing output for display on printers, terminals, and other output devices.

By allowing control over fonts, spacing, pagination, and justification, nroff enables users to better convey their message, enhance readability, and maintain uniformity in documentation.

Its significance lies in its powerful, yet simple text formatting capabilities, making it an important technology term in the world of computing.


Nroff, which stands for “Newer Version of the Text-formatter roff,” serves a significant purpose in the world of document formatting and text processing. Primarily utilized on Unix-based systems, it aims at preparing documents for display on line printers and classic terminal screens. As a crucial component of Unix-like operating systems, Nroff facilitates users in formatting documents in a plethora of styles by interpreting the text embedded with special commands and macros.

This versatile tool enables developers to create elegant and sophisticated documents, encompassing various elements like tables, lists, and headers while adhering to predefined layout rules. Consequently, Nroff plays a vital role in producing well-structured manuals, guides, and other technical documentation. In essence, Nroff focuses on generating a document layout that is easily interpretable by humans while ensuring a seamless experience on terminals and printers.

Its primary use case is related to creating Unix man pages – the primary source of documentation for Unix-based systems. Nroff offers compatibility with numerous device drivers that help deliver the desired output to various devices with different capabilities. Furthermore, this text-processing tool offers an extensive set of commands, parameters, and built-in macros that make the process of document layout design efficient and user-friendly.

It is worth noting that the standard capabilities of Nroff can be further extended using macro packages, such as the popular “Man” macros, to unlock additional functionality suitable for specific formatting requirements.

Examples of Nroff

The technology term “nroff” stands for “New Runoff,” which is a Unix-based text formatting command used for creating simple documents and displaying them on a terminal screen or producing printed output. Here are three real-world examples of how it is used:

Technical Documentation: Nroff is often used for formatting Unix “man pages,” which are the technical documentation for Unix commands and programs. The man pages are usually written in a markup language called “roff,” which is then processed by the nroff command to render the content suitably for display in a terminal. This makes it easier for users to navigate and read the documentation while using the command-line interface.

Formatting Emails and Newsletters: Nroff can be used to format plain-text emails and newsletters that adhere to a consistent layout with headers, footers, and simple text styling. This can make emails more readable by emphasizing specific points, structuring the content effectively, and creating an overall professional appearance in plain-text format.

Simple Reports and Research Papers: Writers or developers may use nroff in conjunction with the groff (GNU roff) system to format simple research papers, articles, or reports without needing to use more complex software like word processors. This can be especially useful when working in a command-line environment or when aiming for portability across different systems, since the formatted output can be easily converted to PostScript or PDF formats for sharing with others.

Nroff Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Nroff?

Nroff (short for “New ROFF”) is a Unix text formatting tool that converts plain text files into formatted documents. It is typically used for creating man pages (manual pages) for Unix systems.

2. How do I install Nroff on my system?

Most Unix-based systems come with Nroff pre-installed. However, if you need to install it manually, you can do so by installing the ‘groff’ package, which includes Nroff. Depending on your system, the installation command may vary. For example, on Ubuntu, you can use `sudo apt-get install groff` in the terminal.

3. How do I use Nroff to format my text file?

To format a text file, run the Nroff command in the command line followed by the desired input and output files. The syntax is as follows: `nroff -man input_file > output_file`. Replace ‘input_file’ and ‘output_file’ with your file names.

4. What is the difference between Nroff and Troff?

Nroff and Troff are sibling tools for text formatting. While Nroff is designed for formatting text documents for display on a terminal or line printers, Troff (short for “Typesetter ROFF”) is designed for typesetting documents on high-resolution devices such as phototypesetters and laser printers. Troff can produce output in several formats, including PostScript output and device-independent DVI (DeVice Independent) format.

5. Can I use Nroff for creating other documents besides man pages?

Yes, Nroff is versatile enough to format various types of documents such as newsletters, reports, and more. However, please note that Nroff is designed primarily for plain text documents, so it might not be the best choice for documents requiring complex layouts, images, or graphics. In such cases, you can consider using more advanced typesetting tools like LaTeX or desktop publishing software.

Related Technology Terms

  • Unix System – Nroff is a text-formatting utility in Unix-like systems
  • GNU Troff (Groff) – The GNU’s version of Troff, which supports the functions of Nroff as well
  • Text Formatting – Nroff handles plain text formatting on Unix systems
  • Type Setting – Troff is used for type setting, and Nroff is its simpler variant for text
  • Runoff – The predecessor of Nroff and Troff, invented at MIT in 1964

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